Subscribe to Print Edition | Tue., April 07, 2009 Nisan 13, 5769 | | Israel Time: 15:28 (EST+7)
Haaretz israel news English
Haaretz Toolbar
Defense Jewish World Opinion National
Print Edition
Car Rental
Books Haaretz Magazine Business Real Estate Joy of Giving Travel Week's End Anglo File
Pashkevils - admonitory posters - announcing Birkat Hachama prayers in the Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim.
(Emil Salman)
Last update - 14:30 05/04/2009
Jews around world to greet sun with once-in-28-year prayer
Prof. Ariel Cohen: "The tradition contradicts every astronomical principle today, and even the Hebrew calendar, as it is now used"
By Yair Ettinger
Tags: Passover 2009, Jewish World 

Hundreds of thousands of Jews around the world will awake before dawn on Wednesday, climb to high vantage points and wait for the sun as they recite a prayer said only once every 28 years.

For many of the participants, this will be their first time reciting the "Birkat Hachama" prayer, which according to Jewish tradition, marks the sun's return to its starting point at the moment the universe was created, after completing a 28-year cycle known as the "machzor gadol," or "large cycle."

The last prayer was held in April 1981. At the time, Haaretz correspondent Akiva Eldar described throngs of Jerusalemites ascending to the Western Wall Plaza 3 A.M. to recite the prayer.
This year, however, the blessing has added significance, as it falls on Passover Eve, a sign some observant Jews interpret as a potential harbinger of a redemptive event of cosmic proportions.

Yeshivas in the capital are holding special sessions to interpret the significance of the event. At the Kahal Hasidim yeshiva, posters promise "a comprehensive lesson accompanied by an enormous model of the zodiac and constellations, according to the renowned expert on the stars' positions and heavenly bodies, Rabbi Mordechai Ganot, may he live long."

Ganot and other speakers fill auditoriums. He said "many questions remain" over "the thesis of a certain Polish priest named Copernicus," but emphasized, "Anyone who believes in the new system is not considered a heretic."

According to the Babylonian Talmud, the Sun was created on the fourth day of creation. Because Jewish law considers a day to span from evening to evening, the beginning of the halachic fourth day occurs at sundown Tuesday evening. The 28-year-cycle therefore begins and ends at the exact point in time when the sun was created, and the sun only returns to this position once every 28 years.

Does this tradition receive any support from modern astronomical knowledge? Prof. Ariel Cohen of the Hebrew University's Department of Atmospheric Sciences said, "If the length of the year was as they thought it was 2,000 years ago - that is, 365 and a quarter days - then 28 years would indeed be an accurate cycle. But based on knowledge of the year's length gained in the past few hundred years, 'Birkat Hachama' is an embarrassing tradition, testifying to a complete, blatant and intentional disconnect from modern science."

Cohen also took issue with the Scriptural decree to recite the prayer at the beginning of spring, saying that because the calendar in use today is vastly different from the one used in the past, the "tradition contradicts every astronomical principle today, and even the Hebrew calendar, as it is now used."

Related articles:
  • 3rd century 'Shema' prayer scroll proves ancient Austrian Jewry
  • In wake of financial crisis, Haredim plan prayer day to fund schools
  • Caught on film: How Obama's note was stolen from Western Wall
  • Bookmark to  
    Fighter for peace
    Gaza doctor whose three daughters were killed during Gaza op gets Nobel nomination.
    Determined diplomacy
    Obama: U.S. 'strongly supports' two-state solution, vows to continue peace process.
      1.   birkat ha-chama 06:23  |  aytan 05/04/09
      2.   mythology corrupts religion 08:04  |  KMS 05/04/09
      3.   Bad Memory 09:04  |  Dave 05/04/09
      4.   Interesting 09:08  |  Oriv 05/04/09
      5.   "Birkat Hachama" prayer must be greeted also with charity deeds 09:26  |  Joseph.E 05/04/09
      6.   nothing embarrassing..wonderful symbolism 09:58  |  Meir Gush Etzion 05/04/09
      7.   do not look at the stars for your fortunes 11:20  |  jacques 05/04/09
      8.   Religion is by definition mithology... 14:02  |  The Wizard 05/04/09
      9.   #4 and #7 14:05  |  observer 05/04/09
      10.   #9 The muslim tradition is in accord with Jewish monotheism 14:55  |  Meir Gush etzion 05/04/09
      11.   Muslim views - #4 16:47  |  Daniel 05/04/09
      12.   Birkat Ha-Chamah 17:15  |  Beit David 05/04/09
      13.   NOT praying to the sun 18:27  |  CS 05/04/09
      14.   astronomical knowledge is not new nor a modern science 18:56  |  Joseph.E 05/04/09
      15.   #11 what? 20:03  |  observer 05/04/09
      16.   Some minor corrections 20:16  |  observer 05/04/09
      17.   Saying blessing in the wrong day of the wrong year 22:06  |  Ben 05/04/09
      18.   Prof. Ariel Cohen is an embarrassment with his ignorance. 01:22  |  Dave 06/04/09
      19.   You cynics out there think you`re SO superior! 03:18  |  Raymond in DC 06/04/09
      20.   Keep science and religion separate 04:20  |  Jon 06/04/09
      21.   Recycle Your 1981 Calender 05:16  |  Jeff Northridge 06/04/09
      22.   Birkat Hachama 07:38  |  a shagutz 06/04/09
      23.   Response to #13 07:46  |  A shagutz 06/04/09
      24.   #19 11:13  |  observer 06/04/09
      25.   To Observer #24. It is a good feeling to disregard reality. 17:20  |  Ben 06/04/09
      26.   Jon #20-but not keep perception and religion separate 22:25  |  Meir Gush etzion 06/04/09
      27.   Seems to me that . . . 15:09  |  Zev Davis 07/04/09
     Haaretz Hot Topics
    Air strike in Sudan
    Israel 2009 election results: Voter breakdown
    Conflict in Gaza
    Israel vs. Hamas
    Iran: Nuclear and regional ambitions

    More Headlines
    15:03 Israel test fires Arrow missile defense system
    14:15 Driver shot dead after attacking Border Police in Jerusalem
    13:28 Haaretz exclusive: Obama to visit Israel, West Bank in June
    12:10 ANALYSIS / Obama speech heralds end of 'axis of evil' era
    14:58 Olmert to court: Defer hearings in graft cases against me
    14:09 'It's not easy being an Ethiopian Jew in America'
    11:22 Lieberman questioned for third time in graft probe
    11:13 WATCH: Daily news round-up from Israel
    14:07 Obama's Turkey address draws praise across Middle East
    08:24 ANALYSIS / Obama saying Israel still bound to two-state solution
    08:31 Pesach gift-giving has robbed us of our freedom
    08:59 Galilee family holds out hope for son missing in Italy quake
    08:25 IDF keeps Bedouin trackers in dark about Egypt border ops
    08:42 Security officials may be barrier to Netanyahu's 'economic peace'
    09:17 Knesset approves two-year state budget
    Previous Editions
    Special Offers
    Spring Specials-Dan Hotels
    Jerusalem from 179$. Tel-Aviv from 223$. Herzliya from 336$
    Dead Sea Skin Care
    Quality cosmetics from the Dead Sea. Coupon code HAARETZ for 12% off!
    Camp Kimama Israel 2009
    The best place for your children this summer
    Eldan Rent a Car
    Israel's leading car rental company offers you a 20% discount on online reservations
    Jewish Singles Personal Ads
    Find the love of your life on
    Junk a car - get free towing nationwide and a tax-deductible receipt
    Home | TV | Print Edition | Diplomacy | Opinion | Arts & Leisure | Sports | Jewish World | | Israel 2009 election results
    Site rules | Makom: Engaging on Israel | Search engine marketing, the online edition of Haaretz Newspaper in Israel, offers real-time breaking news, opinions and analysis from Israel and the Middle East. provides extensive and in-depth coverage of Israel, the Jewish World and the Middle East, including defense, diplomacy, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the peace process, Israeli politics, Jerusalem affairs, international relations, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the Israeli business world and Jewish life in Israel and the Diaspora.
    © Copyright  Haaretz. All rights reserved